Batik as an artform can be seen in traditional textile art all over the world and to be honest it's a bit hard to know exactly where it all started. Evidence shows similar methods used up to 1500 years ago in Egypt.
There is also some disagreement about when batik began in Indonesia, some experts argue that the complexity of the art could not be achieved until after high quality imported cloth was available in the 1800's. Either way batik in Indonesia and in particular Java has been around in a highly intricate from for 100's of years. And like a fine wine it just gets better with age.
How Batik Is Made
There are a few ways to create batik and artists are constantly innovating colour and wax application methods. As well as engineering more sustainable and environmentally friendly processes.
All batik textiles are created in a "resistance" method by applying wax to a cloth (cotton, silk, etc). The wax will resist the colour during the dying process creating a pattern where the wax is applied. The wax is than washed off in hot water. This process can be repeated how ever many times the artist wants in achieving the desired effects.
Traditionally the dyeing process uses an immersion technique, basically the whole piece of fabric will be submerged in the dye until the right shade is absorbed. Modern techniques will vary a bit more and now many artists apply colour just like painting a canvas with a paint brush! There is come really exciting experimentation happening in gaining watercolour effects - which are to dye for! (haha ...puns ...)
A single piece of fabric is called a "lembar" in Indonesian. Artists are very sticky about the size of a single lembar as it affects the dye consistency and pattern so as a rule ALL handmade batik in Indonesia is 2.5m x 1.2m. We can sometimes stretch this to 3m x 1.2m for cap. WHY? Well it's not just traditionally the best size for a sarong as we have found the hard way. Many cap patterns are designed to come come together over a certain area of fabric - a dynamic that can be thrown out when you mess with the fabric size. Tulis is so complex that adding to the length of the fabric can triple the time required and quadruple that chances for mistakes and damage to the piece.
There are 3 tiers to Batik in Indonesia.
Tulis is by far at the apex of the batik world and its not hard to see why - the level of complexity in its ideology and in the technique itself is incredible.
We view each and every piece simply as works of art.
The are a number of variations within the tulis realm and artists are constantly exploring new ways to express their ideas in batik. Lead artists in each studio create designs that are traced with pencil onto the fabric. The traced fabric is given to the artists (pembatik) that apply the wax, clearfully moving across each detail using a tool called canting. This essential little gadget looks like a smoking pipe with a little spout on the end. Artists, holding it like a pen fill the pot with wax and apply it to the fabric. These artists are almost exclusively women. Work areas will be made of circles of women seated around a fondue pot of melted wax in the middle.
Once the ladies have worked their wax magic the piece is dyed and cleaned before the process is repeated again and again and again. Many hands are involved in making a single lembar of any batik, but in particular batik tulis. Pieces can take from 1 month to 1.5 years to create a fact that blows us away everytime. So very worth it.
Jogja is leading the charge in pushing the boundaries of modern batik. There are some amazing artists experimenting with abstract methods on one hand and delicate watercolour like effects on the other. We have mixed as many styles as possible into our collection.
The first step to making cap, is to make the cap! Batik stamps are made by metal artists and are works of art unto themselves. Artists cut, bend and place copper in the stamp design so that it picks up wax and deposits it neatly onto the fabric. Patterns can be stand alone images or designed to link up exactly to make a complete, repetitive pattern. The stamp is placed evenly on a wide tray of melted wax and then transferred to the fabric with great precision.
Each studio has their own collection of stamps, made specifically for them alone. They are incredibly protective of the stamps as you can imagine. Its lovely walking into studios and and seeing these unique collections often hanging on walls in and around work spaces, patiently waiting for their next use.
We have growing collection of exciting cap pieces from all around Java which make up our AND.M range. we will also have lembar for sale soon.
As the name implies this uses both the tulis and cap technique. Using both means that more complex pops of colour can be added to cap designs. Little additions and line that can change the whole character of a pattern. To what amount each technique is used varies in each piece - from simple additions to the creation of insanely complex majority tulis pieces.
We have numerous combination batik in our collection, such as The Car Song.
One of the things we love about batik studios on the islands of Indonesia is the collaboration between people of all ages, men and women to create the art. Whilst roles depend on the studio they are typical mixed up between the genders and ages, each playing an important role in the creation of each work.
One role is which women rule as true Queen's though is using the canting to apply the delicate lines of wax to tulis and combination patterns. A role - it has been widely agreed can only be done by the patient hand of a women. In balance of this we often find that it is the men who work with cap to create the seamless connected patterns of cap.
The studios closely reflect the artists and lead designers working within them and are an incredible glimpse into how the art is made and the minds behind it. Generally however studios are always surrounded by or are close to nature. We often find them down the long winding, unassuming roads typical in Indonesia, settled behind trees and drying fabric.
**Batik is an immense topic, technically, creatively and culturally. So treat this page as just the tip of the iceberg and please keep in mind that we are not academics! We keep to the facts, explained through our eyes. We are always up to find something else out, answer questions and fix something we have made a mistake on. Contact us anytime.**